Opinion: The “A” Word

Agile: full of tiresome rules, failed experiments, and monotony. I’m here to change that. No, I’m not one of those agilists who shakes the Manifesto overhead like an impassioned minister on Sunday. But I do believe that Agile gets a bad rap. Agile is not simply a project management tool used by tech companies and…

Photo courtesy Daria Nepriakhina
Photo courtesy Daria Nepriakhina

Agile: full of tiresome rules, failed experiments, and monotony.

I’m here to change that.

No, I’m not one of those agilists who shakes the Manifesto overhead like an impassioned minister on Sunday. But I do believe that Agile gets a bad rap.

Agile is not simply a project management tool used by tech companies and software developers. It is a method to manage ambiguity and change in a controlled, fluid environment. Agile can be used to build amazing relationships and things, and to grow and better yourself and the world around you. It is a powerful thinking tool and planning mechanism to shape everything from your place of employment to your personal life and everything in between. It is, really and truly, awesome.

Don’t believe me? Well, challenge accepted!

Over the next series of articles, I will be diving into the origins of Agile, why it does—and doesn’t—work, and how to avoid the standard pitfalls often encountered when attempting to implement Agile in a project environment.

But first, we’ll take a look at the start of it all: the Agile Manifesto.

Penned in 2001, in a collaborative effort among a group of Silicon Valley professionals coined the Agile Alliance, the Agile Manifesto provided a stepping stone from traditional project management to a development methodology that would spawn a new way of delivering quickly, consistently, and accurately, while encouraging ingenuity and collaboration. 

Since its open-source publication, the Agile Manifesto has been used as the baseline to create a vast repertoire of project management tools, techniques, practices, and frameworks that have grown into an industry all their own. It is often lauded as the be-all, end-all map to agile practice.

Unfortunately, using as simple a baseline as the Agile Manifesto to build frameworks, processes, and theories upon often results in said baseline being mistaken for law, which leaves no room for interpretation. 

While the use of the term “manifesto” sounds provocative, the document itself is actually a mission statement. (There’s a reason why the Manifesto reads less like a radical ideology and more like a contract.) Mission statements are used across industries to set a company, brand, or organization apart from the competition.

In that vein, the Agile Manifesto was written by IT professionals from various business environments with the goal of setting the Agile ideology apart from traditional project management. The Agile Alliance wanted to promote the benefits of incremental and continuous delivery while identifying constraints and expectations on the “how”. This is what makes the Manifesto so useful, and so easily misused.

The purpose of the Manifesto wasn’t to prescribe expectations and processes—this was, in fact, one of the biggest concerns the Agile Alliance had when first trying to create it. They wanted something substantive to fall back on when fighting against the heavy-handedness of corporate bureaucracy and antiquated project management methods that bogged down innovation and ingenuity for process, process, process.

When interviewed about the creation of the Manifesto, many of the original members of the Agile Alliance held the same opinion about its usefulness today. “Uncle” Bob Martin, for example, said the Manifesto was “a call to action in a point of time, and not a script of how to behave.” This throws into conflict the current use of the Manifesto by many in the industry. The last thing on the authors’ minds—apart from where their milestone meeting would be held—was creating yet another tangle of red tape for organizations to wade through.

Manifestos, by definition, are declarations of purpose behind an ideology. Knowing where our practice was born and how it came to be is still important. But considering the Manifesto is now almost 20 years old and still touted as cutting edge seems a bit contrary in an industry that celebrates innovation. Perhaps a new version is in order.

In my next article, we’ll take a stab at an updated version of the Manifesto to match the current state of the agile world. Will the new version endure another 20 years? Who knows?

Either way, it’ll be a fun experiment.

Emily Truax wanted to be a dragon when she grew up. Still does, but hoarding doesn’t pay the bills.

In her adulting life, she is a technical project manager with a decade of experience in Agile methodology. She holds her PMP and PMI-ACP from PMI, and her CSP-SM and CAL-E/T/O from Scrum Alliance. In her creative life, she is a freelance artist, designer, writer and sometimes-musician.

Emily lives in Omaha with her partner, Mike, and many houseplants.

 

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